By Another Way, January 3, 2021

By Another Way

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72, 1-7, 10-14; Matthew 2:1-12

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville United Methodist Churches, online; January 3, 2020

 

The Magi followed the star to find the baby born to be king.  They started far away from Bethlehem, and their journey probably took many months.  They followed the star because they’d never seen it before; it had to be something special, some kind of sign. We saw a bright light in the sky this season; the planets Jupiter and Saturn were so aligned in the night sky that they shared the light they reflected to our eyes.  Astronomers called it a great conjunction.  Maybe what the Magi saw was a great conjunction.  Whatever it was, they followed it in the direction of its brightness in search of a significant happening, a child born to be king.  Finding the child became their hope as they traveled across the desert, day after day.  They found him as they’d hoped and presented him with precious gifts.  Then, they believed the angel who spoke to them in a dream, so they didn’t go back through Jerusalem to report anything to Herod at all. They were presented with a choice, and they chose to protect this child in whom they’d placed their hope. They found another way home.

 

This is our star.  This year, 2021, is the star that many of us have been following with hope since late spring 2020.  Early spring there were significant restrictions on where we could go and what we could do, but it wasn’t yet the story of the whole year.  By May, it looked like we could be in it for the long haul.  To add to the pandemic, there were murder hornets, with no natural predators, coming into the country.  There were protesters speaking out and marching against the racism they saw over and over across the nation, and there were people who were shaken by their voices and by their protests.  There were so many deaths in NYC from Covid-19 that the funeral homes couldn’t keep up.  The year 2020 was too much, all at once.  As the weeks went on, the murder hornets slowed down, but the political campaigns and the corona virus ramped up.  The daily news was always stressful, all year long, filled with statistics about death and infection, citizens angry about mask rules, people losing jobs and small businesses closing.  The year itself became symbolic of the problem.  Maybe 2021 will be different.  Maybe things will start to change at the new year.  This became the star to follow, the place to fix our gaze as we slogged through the difficult days. What have we found? 

 

We have not found a baby born to be king, at least as far as I can tell.  Unlike the Magi, we don’t seem to have reached the end of our journey.  But in the post-Christmas quiet of the last week, perhaps we have found some time to step away from the agitation and stress of the year that has gone.  The news hasn’t calmed down much.  There are still daily challenges in the world around us, regular pieces of sadness and pain in the news, but there is also the good news of Christmas, if we’ve allowed it to seep in.  The solid truth of God’s love that comes to us to live with us, as one of us, and reconcile us to God forever.  That kind of news stands strong against the noise of the world.  We have followed our star, and now, like the Magi, we have a choice to make as we go forward. 

 

We can go on as we’ve been going.  We can choose to become mired in the nastiness that swirls around us.  It wouldn’t be hard to do. I saw a word online this week articulating pain and anger at people whose choices have been hurtful.  “I don’t want to reconnect with you,” it said.  “I now see who you are and I’m OK keeping my distance from you long after we can take these masks off.”   The rancor among our leaders, and among the people, runs deep.  And the wounds inflicted to one another and to the public trust in the national system of government as a whole will be slow to heal. 

 

We can choose another way.  We don’t have to participate in the meanness.  We needn’t remove ourselves from the conversation; it’s important that our voices are heard as we struggle through our current crisis.  But we participate in all that we do as disciples of Jesus, given power by the Spirit of the one who came to us as that baby honored by the Magi. 

 

We have heard the voice of Jesus just as the Magi heard the angel in that dream.  And we can choose ‘a more excellent way.’ As disciples of Jesus, we choose love.  Active love, listening love, concerned love, engaged love.  We choose to go forward into this year in hope and in love, grounded in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

 

For generations Methodists have welcomed the New Year with Watch Night services, in church on New Year’s Eve, beginning the year on the solid rock of their God, our God, in whom we live and move and have our being.  We can choose love because we know we’re not in this alone; we love because God first loved us.  The Covenant Prayer, a version of which is in the hymnal at number 607, is often part of a Watch Night service, a re-commitment to God as we begin the year, that we give ourselves, all of ourselves, to God’s will and work for us in the year ahead.  Charis sang a musical setting of that prayer before she read this morning’s gospel.  Recommitting our lives to living in God’s love, listening to God’s word for us, following God’s will for us, is a disciplined way to live that more excellent way of love Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians.  It is too rarely the way of the world.  This new formulation of the Covenant Prayer was shared by Rev. Jeremy Smith, a United Methodist colleague in Washington state.  

I am not my own self-made, self-reliant human being.

In truth, O God, I am yours.

Make me into what you will.

Make me a neighbor with those whom you will.

Guide me on the easy path for you.

Guide me on the rocky road for you.

Whether I am to step up for you or step aside for you;

Whether I am to be lifted high for you or brought low for you;

Whether I become full or empty, with all things or with nothing;

I give all that I have and all that I am for You.

So be it.

And may I always remember that you, O God, and I belong to each other.  Amen.

 

Choose love, friends.  Practice forgiveness.  Go into this year by another way from the rancor and fury and nastiness that surrounds us.  Choose the way of love; shine the light of love; live as peacemakers to make the song of the angels real today.  And may we always remember that God and you and I belong to each other.  Amen

 

 

  1. Isaiah 60:1-6
    1. Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

 

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

1Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

2May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

3May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

4May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

5May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

6May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

7In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

10May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

11May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

12For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

13He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

14From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

 

 

Matthew 2:1-12

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

 

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